Do you feel weird, different, or like you don't belong?
Know that other people feel weird, too
Demonstrate interest in your conversation partner
Ask open-ended questions
Allow your conversation partner to teach you
"If there's a subject you're not familiar with, just be honest with that person and nine out of 10 times they'll teach you about it," Michael Wong writes.
It goes back to that central idea of letting other people do most of the talking. Asking other people to explain what they mean might prompt them to talk for at least another few minutes.
Practice the FORM technique
Robert Adams uses a special mnemonic to keep conversations flowing easily, FORM:
• Family: Do you have kids? Where is your family from? How long have you lived around here?
• Occupation: What do you do for a living? What is that like? Have you always been a circus acrobat?
• Recreation: What do you guys do for fun? How long have you been involved in SCA? Where do you buy chain-mail, or did you make it yourself?
• Money: What happened with the price of gas? Did you see that last school-bond issue? How do you think the new liquor-store laws will shake out? Anybody you know lose their job lately?
Read the news
In the days leading up to a social function, take time to peruse the news, "including the sections that don't really interest you," Mark Simchock writes.
That way, if a conversation should come to an abrupt halt, you can fill the silence with, "Hey, did you hear about …" or "Man, how about that … ?"
Boost your conversation partner's self-esteem
Flatter people to capture and hold their interest, Joe Goebel suggests.
"Try to make everyone you talk with feel a little better about themselves after having met and talked to you," he writes.
Practice with everyone you meet
Whether the doorman at work or a fellow passenger on the train, try your hand at small talk with everyone, Rohan Sinha says.
Eventually, you'll start feeling more comfortable striking up and maintaining interesting conversations.
Copy good conversationalists
"Listen to comedians, listen to talk-show hosts, listen to real people," Edahn Small recommends.
Try to remember the kinds of questions they ask, how they follow up on the other person's answers, and even how they make use of silence. Chances are good that they learned the same way.
Use the ARE format
Ask a better version of, 'What do you do?'
In a 2013 blog post, best-selling author Gretchen Rubin suggests asking people you meet, "What's keeping you busy these days?"
Rubin writes: "It's useful because it allows people to choose their focus (work, volunteer, family, hobby) — preferable to the inevitable question (well, inevitable at least in New York City): 'What do you do?'"
Talk about something that just happened to you
"Whenever I want to start a conversation with a stranger or someone I don't know well, I start talking about something that happened to me early that day," writes William Beteet.
"This doesn't put them on the spot like a question does, and gives the opportunity to either ask me a question or add what they know about the topic."
He adds: "I can't tell you how many great conversations I've had by saying, 'I just had the most amazing peanut butter and jelly sandwich.'"
"There's nothing wrong with just saying, 'You know, I hate small talk, so how about we talk about something big?'" Derek Scruggs writes.
Chances are, your conversation partner will feel somewhat relieved.
Scruggs recommends having on hand a few "big" questions that promote intimacy, including, "What's something that scared you today?" and "Are you happy with your current lifestyle?"
Bring up some of your past failures
Erick Diaz says:
"Whenever I talk about my accomplishments, people will just nod and say, 'Congrats man! That's awesome.' It's dry, ineffective and doesn't segue into anything of substance. BUT when I talked about:
• Accidentally spilling food on people at a restaurant I worked at• Burning the chicken at my girlfriend's house, nearly causing us to break up• Accidentally throwing my phone away in a public trash can and having to dive in to get it back
"They always get big laughs."
What's more, Diaz says, it encourages the other person to talk about their own mishaps.
Know that other people feel weird, too
"You are totally not alone in feeling awkward or shy," Tammy_Tangerine writes on Reddit. "Other people are struggling with that as well, and these feelings are totally ok and nothing to feel ashamed about."
She adds that even people who look incredibly confident may be struggling with the same self-doubts as you.
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